It is a hero’s journey, the real-life hero’s journey of Charlie Brown—not the character in Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip with the same name, but of Charles Robert Brown. There are many stories on his journey: a life-long love story, the rescue of a drowning baby from a canal, business successes and challenges, flying B-17s across the country, piloting slurry bombers over Alaska forest fires, helping organize and run three free clinics in Mexico, repairing airplanes on dirt strips in foreign countries, mentoring pilots and young people, a life full of successful missions. Not your ordinary life or man.

I teach a community college-level class called the “Hero’s Journey” based on the archetypal work of Joseph Campbell. In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces Campbell writes, “Your life is the fruit of your own doing; you have no one to blame but yourself” and “The fundamental human experience is that of compassion”. Few people in our world exemplify Campbell’s definition of the hero and his journey as completely as our own Charlie Brown.

You can usually find him at one of his hangars on the north side of Deer Valley Airport working on one of his planes, offering help and advice to other pilots or just enjoying his element. That is unless he is flying one of his twice-a-month missions deep into Mexico. When I asked him why he has spent so much of his time, energy, and resources for over 13 years with the volunteer organizations Flying Samaritans and Liga International, he quips “cause Donna and Bonnie told me to.” Donna Brown his high school sweetheart and now his wife. Bonnie Lassen is president of Flying Samaritans Phoenix Chapter. That’s our humble Charlie.

The third weekend of each month 5-10 private planes with up to 40 trained medical personnel (and myself) descend on a landing strip made of packed seashells in a remote village of Baja California Sur. The long strip abruptly ends at the sand dunes framing the Pacific. Here the ospreys are soaring, fish in their talons, and your nostrils are assaulted by the intense stench of the cannery. Charlie Brown stands on the runway, radio in hand, coaxing the lightweight metal birds gently down to the glimmering seashell runway.

He wears his “uniform”: worn baseball cap emblazoned with the logo of the Flying Sam’s, polo shirt and jeans. Today we first heard him on the radio announcing from the uncontrolled airport “Jack you out there?” (Jack is the pilot of the plane I’m on). We circle the small town, familiar sights whisking by below. Simple houses, many built of plywood, some brightly painted in the colors of Mexico we love—vibrant turquoises, oranges and even a flamboyant pink here and there. With scant annual rainfall in this unforgiving barren desert, the sparse trees stand out offering shade to the simple structures.

In this challenging place to live there are just a few small tiendas, 1 gas station, and the cannery—the only local employer. And then there is the unrelenting wind off the Pacific. The people who do live here are like the less fortunate everywhere, with minor to extreme healthcare needs—schools with children needing glasses; elders with diabetes, heart issues, blindness; everyone needing dental care. Their needs are significant especially when access to medical facilities, trained medical personnel and medications is sparse or nonexistent. This is the picture of López Mateo Baja California Sur that Charlie Brown and the rest of the Sam’s volunteers descend on each month.

This month, like most, it is Charlie leading the pack, arriving the day before to begin the arduous tasks of securing, repairing, cleaning, and returning functionality to the basic concrete building that houses the López Clinic. Looking down from the small plane I see the clinic and the people who have come in from miles around, many lining up the night before with chairs, sleeping bags and food. They camp out to secure their precious space in line. Some are in wheelchairs, there are boisterous children everywhere, and the volunteers are like bees in a hive working to organize the much-needed medical care of this remote underserved community into one packed day.

Charlie has repaired broken vacuum pumps for the dentists, put out electrical fires in the wall, rebuilt a plane alternator in Guaymas on the way over, brought in fresh water, medical supplies, and basics from gloves to medications. The supplies are flown in on the small planes from the States. On this morning the dance began with Charlie unlocking the clinic early, planes being safely guided in, volunteers with skills from medical doctors to dentists, nurses, ophthalmologists, and translators all finding their piece in the mosaic of this day.

After the clinic, at dinner on the front porch of a local home (that is the style of the “restaurants” in Lopez) we witnessed the “Charlie Brown Special.” As Dr. Scott Farrell puts it, “two diet cokes with ice and no green food on my plate.” To Dr. Farrell, who is involved in free medical clinics all over the world, Charlie is “the most generous, kindhearted and humanitarian packed guy I have ever known. Is there anything he would not do for, or give to another person, from his heart, his mind, or his wallet; with never a thought of being paid back? May our wings be up together for many more years to come.”

When asked about his famous namesake, Charlie says he is the “original Charlie Brown” having beaten out the comic strip character by more than a year. Our Charlie Brown was born June 3, 1949 with Charles Schultz’s first major release of the Peanuts comic strip featuring the famous Charlie Brown on October 2, 1950.

Not your ordinary man, Charlie is a study in contrasts, at once jovial and poking fun at himself and the plane (“flying at the speed of smell”), while having the concentration of a natural born pilot dancing with his machine. With over 6000 flying hours since he received his first pilot’s license in 1978, he has owned 6 airplanes and is building an RV 7 from a kit. Flying with Charlie is an experience for the senses with music alternating from Charlie Brown’s Christmas music to Enya, all the while he is focusing on the details that flying entails.

Longtime friend Mike Northrop says about Charlie: “He’s the guy who would give you the shirt off his back and not ask you what you needed it for.”

Bonnie Lassen remembers Charlie showing up at a Flying Samaritans (Sams) meeting in 2013 intending to volunteer as a pilot. It was not long until he was helping with maintenance, procuring supplies, and spreading the word about the Flying Samaritans and their mission. Bonnie gleefully comments “I find his off-beat sense of humor to be an additional bonus—well most of the time. Truly he is a very valued member of the Phoenix Sams.” He has made over 115 three or four day trips with Flying Samaritans to Baja California Sur and Liga International to El Fuerte in Sinaloa over the last 11 years.

Asking pilots, friends, and family that know him best about their favorite Charlie Brown moments, the stories start to flow. He met Donna in high school at North High in Phoenix when their biology teacher assigned the awkward teenagers their seats in alphabetical order. Sophomore Charlie Brown sat down next to dark haired freshman Donna Carpenter. Donna told me that on the day of their wedding in 1971 they went water skiing at Lake Pleasant with their group of friends. Charlie is always on the go doing something active. The synchronicity of the seat assignments were the start of a 60-year romance and partnership that has spanned time, businesses, community service and even being flight crew chief on the B-17 Sentimental Journey all across the great expanse of the US for more than 7 years.

When I listen to Charlie talking about his journey in life, I hear so many moments of magic and luck, where opportunities to create, build and satisfy his engineering talent and creative mind met his ingenuity, determination, and curiosity. He was raised on a chicken farm in Riverside, California. At one time he bought an organ repair business, expanded it, and made it a success. He wasn’t looking for anything else but when asked at a party if he might fix a part on a complicated print machine for a local Phoenix paper, his curiosity was peaked. He told Donna he was going to look at this machine that no one else could fix and see if he could help out. He returned in an hour to say he had solved the problem. Intrigued by his experience, he and his wife founded a small local print operation that would eventually become one of the premier die and metal working companies in the world. Metal Magic is an international business creating everything from the plates for the front of your passport to the invitations to the Presidential Inauguration. Charlie and Donna are now supporting their beloved son in running the business. His brother, Carl Shipley, describes Charlie as “Brilliant – an extraordinarily brilliant fellow. A self-made man that could do what others thought was impossible, for Charlie it’s just another interesting challenge.”

Trent DeBusk lived across the street from Donna and Charlie and was taken in by them when Trent’s dad passed. He was 12. Asked about his 55 years knowing Charlie he reminisces “I could go on and on about all the different skills Charlie possesses and the myriad of interests he had had over the year, but I would rather talk about a couple of qualities that truly define Chuck: He is one of the most generous and charitable people I have ever known…He was and has always been there for me, he was a major influence in my life and helped shape me into the man I am today.”

Myron Nelson was one of the many pilots recruited by Charlie to fly with the Sams. “Our community in general and myself in particular are blessed to be associated with and learn true civic responsibility from people like Charlie who are constantly searching for opportunities to teach, serve, and assist others. He truly epitomizes the concept of a servant’s heart.”

If you are lucky enough to get to fly with Charlie or catch him out at the hangar, see if you can get him to tell you “why” he contributes so freely (and let me know). In any case, I think we can all agree “You are a good man, Charlie Brown!”

For more information, please check out the good work and flying adventures of the Arizona Flying Samaritans at and Liga International: Flying Doctors of Mercy at

Find out more about our own Charlie Brown:

“Successful print tool manufacturer embraced risk” Metal Magic featured in the Arizona Republic.

“Reluctant Hero” featured in the Mesa Tribune 4-4-75 after Charlie rescued an infant from a canal following an accident and truck submersion.

“Picture of the Day:  A pilot readies his steed”

“Kitplanes: A Good Samaritan” May 18, 2018

“No Ordinary Moments” by Jodi Johnson